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Mastery Learning: Revolutionizing Education

We're thrilled to bring you an enriching conversation with our distinguished guest, Dr. Dwayne Wood. A seasoned educator and instructional designer, Dr. Wood has a unique perspective on mastery learning in the classroom, thanks to his diverse background in military service. Join us as he takes us through his transition from the military to education, sharing how real-world applications can amplify learning outcomes.

This episode is a deep dive into the world of mastery learning, where we unravel how formative assessments and constructive feedback can revolutionize online education. We challenge the conventional grade-focused approach and champion a more flexible, learning-centric path. We explore the tremendous potential of hands-on experiences and projects in engaging students, while also acknowledging the challenges of implementing mastery learning in classrooms. We delve into how technology can countervail these challenges, facilitating personalized instruction and benchmarking for students.

Our journey continues as we debunk some common misconceptions about mastery learning and uncover its benefits. Setting aside the pressure of time and high-stakes testing, we delve into the positive impacts of competency-based education. We also emphasize the crucial role parents can play in supporting mastery learning at home. Toward the end, we make a strong case for critical thinking within the mastery learning framework, drawing from Dr. Wood's military experience. The episode comes to a close with us reimagining education through the lens of mastery learning - a conversation you don't want to miss!

Show Notes

  • (0:00:01) - Mastery Learning in the Classroom
  • (0:13:21) - Formative Assessments and Feedback in Online Education
  • (0:18:46) - Challenges in Implementing Mastery Learning
  • (0:23:56) - Integrating Technology for Mastery Learning
  • (0:33:56) - Benefits & Misconceptions of Mastery Learning
  • (0:39:24) - Implementing Mastery Learning in Education
  • (0:44:32) - Critical Thinking and Mastery Learning

0:00:01 - Announcer

You are listening to the National University Podcast.

0:00:10 - Kimberly King

Hello, I'm Kimberly King. Welcome to the National University Podcast, where we offer a holistic approach to student support, well-being and success - the whole human education. We put passion into practice by offering accessible, achievable higher education to lifelong learners. Today we are talking about mastery learning in the classroom from a retired military expert. This is very interesting information and really relevant in today's culture. So we talk about targeted feedback, meeting them where they're at with formative assessments and metrics. What gets measured gets done. I love that advice, some best practices and your real world application, tailoring it to you. And one of my favorite quotes from this interview was, “a vision without resources is just an hallucination.” So stay tuned. Got a lot of great information coming your way.

On today's episode, we're talking about using mastery learning in the classroom, and joining us is Dr. Dwayne Wood. Dr. Wood is a passionate educator and instructional designer with a rich background in military service and a profound commitment to empowering learners. Originally from the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York, he has carved a path in the realms of education, leadership, and instructional design. Dr. Wood served in the Army at 17 years old and undertook numerous international missions in South Africa, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. His roles included combat engineer, human resources expert, special operations support, senior enlisted advisor, and military science instructor. Following his military career, Dr. Wood worked as an instructor and instructional designer and obtained a master's degree and eventually a doctorate in education, specializing in leadership and management, from Capella University. He is guided by a profound instructional philosophy for believing in the untapped potential within every learner, and he advocates for tailored approaches catering to the unique needs, interests, and abilities of each learner, and we welcome him to the podcast. Dr. Wood, thanks for joining us. How are you?

0:02:23 - Doctor Dwayne Wood

Good. Thank you for having me.

0:02:25 - Kimberly King

Thank you, by the way, for your service. Looking forward to this, why don't you fill our audience in a little bit on your mission and your work before we get to today's show topic?

0:02:34 - Doctor Dwayne Wood

Yeah. So you know, I really didn't start out with like a goal in mind that I was going to be an educator in the Army. I joined the Army young and I stayed in the Army and I found that really what I was doing as a senior non-commissioned officer was as an educator, and I just loved doing it. It was so fantastic that I started pursuing what does this mean outside of the military and I started discovering the different realms and aspects of education. You know K through 12 environments, higher ed. You know, learning and development in the corporate world. You know adult education and I really focused on the adult education. That's where my experience was from.

So I pursued my academic credentials and then, you know, after retiring, I had some great opportunities to be not only an instructor but to be an instructional designer and curriculum developer, which, to me, to the experiences I've had, you know I'm a firm believer that you know. To be a good instructional designer, you need to be a good instructor. Because we can talk all about the theories and how to put it into practice, but there's a lot of nuances that you don't really understand as an instructional designer until you've been in the classroom or been on- you know, doing something virtually or asynchronously and putting that together and seeing how students interact, right? Just a lot of nuances. That instructional designer- if you're just that, you kind of miss out on that which is critically important to the learning experience. So all of those experiences kind of together has kind of led up to this career path, and I've had a kind of unique career path, and I've kind of jumped in between being an instructor, being a facilitator, instructional design, curriculum developer, in a bunch of different career fields.

I did start out K through 12. I taught some high school for a little bit. I taught government, which was kind of unique, it was fun. And then I got into the higher education space and then I was a defense contractor doing curriculum development, which was always interesting because the military likes to do death by PowerPoint and that doesn't work. But you know, as we go through, you know I was able to make influence, some of that right and make some changes to improve the learning experience for those students. And some of those institutions that I work for are still using some of the stuff that we put together because it works.

And if I had to put it all in like kind of like one kind of statement- The focus is the student - you know the goal is the student learning. What do we need to do so that that student can be successful? And, if I can- and we're going to talk about master of learning in the classroom- I think this is very connected. This is authentic learning, right? If I'm teaching you something or we're going through something and you don't really understand how you're going to apply that in the real world, to me, we just wasted your time, right? That's what education is about, is preparing and educating for real world application.

So I think, at any time we do that type of stuff, that needs to be evident and needs to be explicit, right, so the student understands that, yes, look, this is important and I'm going to be able to use this not only to help with motivation, but it's going to help with self-efficacy, right and confidence for the student. That was a little long winded.

0:05:47 - Kimberly King

Absolutely, I love your passion and that definitely comes through, and again really kind of bring it back to the students and really kind of meeting them where they're at. So you're in the right position again and I love what you have taken, your military experience, and you're applying it now. So today we're talking about competency-based learning approaches and mastery learning approaches. And so, Dr. Wood, what is mastery learning and how does it differ from traditional teaching methods?

0:06:21 - Doctor Dwayne Wood

So in the education field, we have names for a bunch of different things, and you used a couple already like competency-based education right? That's pretty big in higher education, right. There's a lot of universities now that are actually using that as a marketing term. And then we have mastery of learning of mastery, right? There's all these different terms you'll see in the research and in literature out there on this subject, but really what it comes down to it's a methodology that takes time out of the equation. So in traditional methods we're very used to, like this industrial model. Right, we make the assumption that all our inputs are the same, we're going to put them through a process and we're going to produce the same output. That sounds great if we're making Campbell’s soup, but we're not right.

We're using- we're talking about learners here and they're all coming inputs at a different level, different pace. There's an enormous amount of variables that we can never factor, right. So mastery of learning for the classroom takes the time element out. We're going to allow a student to obtain mastery of that skill, knowledge or whatever we're trying to do, in the time it takes them. If it takes them one week, great. If it takes them three weeks, fine, right. And we're going to provide the necessary supports to encourage that learning to get there. In the Army we had a saying we train to standard, not to time. Right, and when?

I like to think about this too, is the idea of grades, and is it really a good measure that learning is happening? And more and more I've come to the conclusion that it's not. You know an existing example, right, if I have a student that comes in and the first exam they get a C. And then I got another student that gets an A on that same exam and then, as we go through the course, that student that got the C gets a B, plus the student that got an A gets another A. What student produced more learning, right? So that grade doesn't really demonstrate to me that the learning is happening.

Now, when we talk about this mastery of learning. Now, if you think about those two students, we got the C plus, we're providing the supports and what the time the student needs to actually master that skill before they move on. Well, that A student, we just bumped it up, we've challenged them now, right, and we're going to move them through. So, you know, they're probably going to struggle a little bit. That's the art here, right? All this educational theory and research is all backed. Right, there's a lot of research that backs this, but there's still an art of application and put this in place. And it's finding how to get the right level of struggle for that student, because if it's too easy, they're going to be bored, right? We see that all the time.

If it's too hard they're going to get frustrated, right, and so this methodology is a way to accommodate those and move through. Now, this is very difficult, and in higher education, you know we talk about terms, right, and that's time-based. You're going to master these skills within this specific time. You know there's a business model and an HR model there, right, that's got to match this application of the methodology.

0:09:50 - Kimberly King

I like that because you're really kind of again meeting them where they're at. If it's too difficult or too easy on either side, you're able to balance that. How can mastery learning benefit students in the classroom? Thank you.

0:10:06 - Doctor Dwayne Wood

We talk about time. I ask you to kind of think back right. Some of your educational experiences, and it's particularly one that you struggled with, and you know that the finals coming up in one week, right, what kind of emotions, what kind of emotional state, mental state is that putting you in? Right? It's using a lot of your cognitive ability for worry and anxiety, which is working against the idea of learning. So, if we can take that away, we've opened up in theory and then opened up cognitive resources that can be applied towards mastery, right? So we can we take that anxiety away, and I think that's really important because the anxiety works against and has a negative impact against student self-efficacy and confidence in their self-esteem. Well, if you start impacting those, it's a vicious cycle, right, you're going to produce students- They're going to continue to struggle, they're going to become frustrated, they're not going to take ownership of their learning.

They're you're going to push them to the frustration level where they're going to quit and give up and at that point you've lost, as an instructor. That's not what you want to happen. You know you want them to take ownership and enjoy it into the process, and that's what this can do. Again, think back. This is an example, right, for me. I'm an okay mathematician, but that was one of the subjects that I kind of struggled with and if I would have had a couple extra time and a little extra supports, I might be a data scientist today, and I just use that as an example. Right, I avoided. I avoided mathematics because the way that it was taught didn't endear it to me. And I would dare to say if you asked, like today's engineers and data scientists and math physicians, why they chose that career, they're probably going to say you know, my middle school math teacher was fantastic. Or my high school math teacher you know was there.

That's what got them propelled in it,. and you know we have this idea that you know we're trying to get STEM right. We were behind other nations and stuff in STEM. Well, it's because, with the way and this, is just my opinion, it's the way we're teaching it. You know we're forcing it and when we force it? Students are going to take ownership.

0:12:29 - Kimberly King

You're going to lose them. Right, and I was going to just agree with you. It was geometry, for me, it was either algebra or geometry. I had a better algebra picture and geometry right out the window, probably failed it as a matter of fact, so I'm not going to look back. So what strategies are techniques and teachers employed to implement mastery learning effectively? Because I love where you're going with this.

0:12:52 - Doctor Dwayne Wood

Yeah, so you know I kind of attack this in a couple of different ways from an instructional design. But also, in a lot of times teachers will find themselves constrained. Still by time, you can still apply learning for mastery within time constraints and you know, of course, in the perfect world, you know administration, everything lines up and you can go full. You know, full methodology of using mastery for learning. But for an instructional design side, one of the things you can build in and we talked a little bit about the grades right and how that measures well, one of the things we can do is use more formative assessments, right. So we have some kind of task that a student will complete, that they'll get very robust feedback. But it's low stakes. There's either no points assigned or very low points. So we can remove some of that anxiety we talked about, right, some of those other things, and we can use it as a building point, right, it's that formative assessment is going to give the instructor facilitator so much information. It's going to say where the student's at, what kind of supports they need, what's the gap between where they're at and where we need to get them right, and it starts to plan that type of stuff that you can put together for that individual student to get to where we're trying to get them to.

So to me, formative assessments are really powerful and they don't have to be like a traditional exam. If we write discussion questions correctly, a discussion question can be a formative assessment right. It can give us ideas as an instructor where the student's at, and we can start developing implementation or intervention based upon some of those responses. That's just a normal thing in higher education and asynchronous environments. I'm not a huge fan of them for a bunch of different reasons, but if we use them correctly it can be a measure, something we can use right, the data that we can make decisions on for the student to improve their learning and get them to the levels we need to as we go through that and the other and I kind of mentioned this already is really targeted feedback. How many times have you taken a course and you get like some general feedback that's like copied and pasted and you know. You know the instructors probably use that comment for every other student. That does us no good. It does us no good for everybody. Instructor goes and do you know? They're not learning.

You know, I like to tell my students like I learned more than you do during this course, right, because I'm continuing adapting and learning from them on methodologies that I can apply based upon different content. That's besides the point. But, yes, very targeted feedback, and think of it just beyond just providing information for mastery, but think about it in the social aspect of it. If I give you very targeted feedback that's personalized to you, we're building a social connection also between and that's really important in our online, virtual, asynchronous type education, because we kind of lose that social aspect and it can be difficult with the tools we have.

I like to offer all the time asynchronous sessions during my courses to allow students to come together me, that be there and have like a you know, real time discussion. We tend to get I think we tend to get more out of that and I think students feel more engaged when that can happen. That can be difficult with adult learners, non-traditional learners, right schedules, you know. Plus, you know I've had courses I got a student in almost every time zone, you know. So you know there's some logistics there, but yeah, so targeted feedback, formative assessments, and really the overall biggest one is just to be flexible. And this kind of applies to what I was saying, that you can do some of this mastery learning even with a time-fixed course. And it's to my philosophy of being learning focused, not grade focused, and what I mean by that is what I tend to have seen over time and even in my own experience. What happens to the students learning once they get their grade? It stops right, got my grade, I'm done, yeah, right. So I think that's a great way to get that.

So I like to do, especially in project-based learning, which National University does really well in a lot of courses, where it builds on right and then the points are a little lower, but you're continuing to build and you have to use the feedback that you receive to improve the product and continue to this iterative process. Right Learning is really happening there as you go through the process. What about instructors and facilitators allow resubmissions. Let's say, a student submits a paper.

Let's just go paper, because that's kind of the traditional right, and I give them a whole bunch of feedback. Why does the learning have to stop, right? What if I allow the student to use that feedback, rewrite the paper, resubmit it? Learning happened. Learning focused, not grade focused. Very well, right.

0:17:48 - Kimberly King


0:17:50 - Doctor Dwayne Wood

And again, that can still happen within the term Right, as long as you don't have a course that's so dense with assignments. I've seen some, you know they got two or three assignments every week. Right, that can be tough to do there, but we can think about those things when it comes to that right. Again, meeting the student, that's a way to tailor that mastery, that skill, to that student. And I didn't even go outside of the parameters of the course. That's as designed. It's just me doing a little more right as the instructor, facilitator…

0:18:21 - Kimberly King

That’s great. And, I was going to say, and that applied knowledge is again where that learning happens, also when they when you integrate a project or when you're your hands on. So I love all of those suggestions, rather than just reading a book or reading your computer and then writing and then moving on to the next. So good, I love that. What are the challenges or potential drawbacks to implementing mastery learning in the classroom?

0:18:53 - Doctor Dwayne Wood

You know, the one that I hear all the time - is class size. You know, if I'm a K through 12 teacher and I got 35 students in my class, this could be a challenge, right. Trying to differentiate for each of the students, allow them their pacing, right that they need to master. That, you know. Unless I got, you know, three or four teaching assistants, right, this that can be really difficult. It can still be done and I would like to say is, do what you can within the means you have. Right, you know, if we have some resources, maybe we can do it in a few. You know this upcoming project that's coming up that we're gonna do. I think we could do competency based here, right, or we can do some mastery of learning in this one, maybe the rest of the curriculum, we're still doing it in a traditional way, but we've implemented this because we have the time and resources to use it there. So you gotta be strategic, I think, in an environment where you're trying to use this methodology, but it's not like fully accepted or everybody fully understands it or whatever, but you can try to use it.

The other challenge to this is especially in adult education. I see this is students are trained on the traditional learning model. So anything that's outside of that is scary, right? Even instructors, if I'm an instructor that grew up as a lecturer, it's very difficult to me to lose control and I'm gonna say perceived loss of control, handing it over to the student. You know it's that switch from instructor-centered to student-centered approach. And if I'm used to very control, it's hard for me to let that control to the student. Though I know it's better for them to do it, it can still be difficult to do and that's the same thing on both sides, right, the student and the instructor.

I would also say and this is getting into the leadership and management aspect of it is our metrics. We are, you know, I forget which management gurus said it, but you know what gets measured gets done right and that influences behavior. So if we're measuring grades, and grades only mastery of learning, can be hard to implement because the metrics aren't gonna be as consistent as they would be in the traditional method, right? I'm a firm believer that if you implement it, and you implement it correctly, you will see long-term gains, absolutely. But in the short-term metrics gathering you're working against the grain on traditional metrics and I think that could be a challenge for anybody K through 12, a higher education right. If administration is gathering certain data and that's gonna influence administrative decisions, right, it can be difficult to try to implement that with those metrics.

0:22:02 - Kimberly King

You know what, and that just reminds me. I come from a broadcast background and so we have a thing called the Nielsen ratings and that was really measuring TV radio, but the very traditional hits, and now we've moved on into streaming and internet and everything. So that kind of reminds me of the same thing. It's the way you measure it, and it's not always the case. As we move into 2023 and beyond, I think that's kind of what you're saying. At least that's how I heard it anyway. So just measuring tech?

0:22:30 - Doctor Dwayne Wood

Yeah, that's absolutely it. You know, we have to be very aware of the second and third order effects of our metrics.

0:22:41 - Kimberly King

Yeah, so this might have kind of led into this next question about how technology can be integrated into mastery learning practices.

0:22:50 - Doctor Dwayne Wood

Yeah, technology, again technology- We got all kinds of stuff available. Sometimes this is constrained by resources, right, you know, just having money. However, technology can be one of these things that can help us overcome those challenges we kind of talked about, especially the larger classroom. You know, we have a bunch of different programs in artificial intelligence out there that can actually tailor learning to an individual. That, as a teacher in the classroom, I got a better. I'm getting metrics right on how students are doing and how they're progressing, and I can manage that for much larger classrooms easier by using that technology.

You know, without it it'd probably be pretty difficult to do but with it and a lot of these new technologies that are out there, especially in the K through 12 environment, are built on the idea of personalized instruction. Right, Students are getting benchmarked. The computer is assessing where they're at, it's giving them practice and they're working on through that as they advance and there's no time limit. Right, Again, they're advancing that's technology helping with this mastery of learning, or competency-based education.

The only caveat that I have for this is that in any technology, one that's gonna be used for mastery of learning or any other part of the learning experience is that technology has to be fully integrated into the curriculum. If it's just added, to be added, you're gonna see a neutral at best effect on learning, and sometimes it can have, you know, students get frustrated with the technology because they don't really know how to use it, or it's not you know, or they're using it only once in a while. Right, you know. So they have to read every time they use it, you know. So it's gotta be fully integrated and research supports this right. As an example, I had a student, a K through 12 student, tell me this story they the district had some money left over, unheard of right, and they were gonna buy this technology.

Yeah, they're gonna buy this technology that was gonna improve student learning, right, and it's all this great stuff. What they did is they bought smart boards for every single classroom. There was no thought in how it was gonna be integrated into the curriculum, how teachers were gonna use it. Maybe we should train right individuals. She told me that in her district the students or the smart boards just aren't used so much for improving learning.

0:25:15 - Kimberly King

They're just sitting there.

0:25:17 - Doctor Dwayne Wood


Right, right, there's gotta be a thought process, you know, based upon educational theory, best practices, the context right, your target audience. All these factors gotta be put into place and it's gotta be thought through. And I like to say you know what makes the difference between a novice instructional designer and a novice or instructor and an expert? And the reason what it is an expert will tell you how that's gonna impact student learning. The novice just follows a process or fads or whatever you wanna call it, but that expert will say this is what it's gonna do and, by the way, here's the metrics I'm gonna look at to ensure that it works right, so that I can say that this worked or not. So that's a big difference between when we at least wanna try to think of it and I think, especially technology, artificial intelligence. You know we have free tools now artificial intelligence that can be used almost as a personal tutor, that could be used to help with mastery of learning right to help students gain that mastery that you're looking for at their own pace.

0:26:32 - Kimberly King

Wow, wow. Such a different world than it just keeps getting more and more advanced. What impact does mastery learning have on student motivation and engagement?

0:26:45 - Doctor Dwayne Wood

So when I think about motivation in this aspect, when we talk about master learning, I like to make the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic right. You know, and if you think about again, think about when you went through K, through 12 and your education there you know what was the motivation there. I dare to say that it was all extrinsic right. External it's the grade. How are the parents gonna view my report card right? Does it have enough A's and B's?

0:27:12 - Kimberly King

on it.

0:27:13 - Doctor Dwayne Wood

You know what's the district measuring? Right, because the teacher's being evaluated on that right. That's very carrot and stick or you know, type, and that tends to not have produced motivation over the long term, right? It also, I think, impedes students from taking ownership of their learning, and I think that's really critical, especially today, because it's not so much knowledge that I need to impart to a student, it's critical thinking skills and information skills that they can filter through and sift through all this information we have at our fingertips. That you know it's a different skill set. Then you know, if we think back, you know when we had to write a paper, we actually had to go to a physical library, right, pull the card catalog.

So it wasn't difficult to sift through information, because you only had credible sources pretty much Completely different. Nowadays, right, I have almost infinite information at my fingertips, so this skill set, so we want to encourage yeah, what we want to encourage is the intrinsic motivation for learning.

If I can teach a student to learn, to learn, I don't need to give them any knowledge, I just need to point them in the right direction. Right, my role changes. I stopped being a teacher and I started to become a coach and mentor, right, and you know that role, I think, is important here, because if I encourage as you go through this process of mastery of learning and it takes you a little extra time and that's fine right, you're getting encouragement, you're getting the tools you need to master it and you master it on your own Self-efficacy, self-confidence, self-esteem all that's going to improve. But what also we developed is we developed learning skills. You've started to decide and started to figure out how you best learn. It wasn't forced on you. You are developing this as you're going through the learning process and that is a more critical skill, I believe, than that you know number theory, because if I can give you that skill, you will learn number theory with the tools you have at hand nowadays. Right, I'll go watch you two.

That's a good point, or I'll find something to read, or I can find it, and I can also evaluate if it's coming from a credible source, something I can believe, because I'm going to apply my critical thinking skills and ask a whole bunch of questions, right.

0:29:46 - Kimberly King

Right, right.

0:29:48 - Doctor Dwayne Wood

The part of this is the inquiry based of this. Also, as students are going, you're going to teach them that they need to ask questions. What do I need to know right to do this? And this is opposite, I think, in our traditional methods, because we're taught how to answer questions, we're not really taught how to ask questions. And, to be completely honest to you, I don't think I really learned to really figure out and ask questions in the academic sense until I got to my PhD.

You know, that's when it really turned to inquiry, right, and the other time it was a lot of like, all right, I'm doing research, but I'm just reading what other people are saying, right, and I'm kind of evaluating a little bit and putting together, but it has more synthesis than creation, you know. So I think that's important. I think we got to get to those higher order thinking skills earlier, and mastery of learning in the classroom is a way to do that, because these other skills, kind of these skills we talked about are very intangible, they're hard to measure, so they defy metrics and but if we can't measure it right, then how is how are we right? So it's kind of this catch 22. But really those are the skills we need to be developing, and we can do them both at the same time, especially with this methodology of mastery of learning.

0:31:03 - Kimberly King

Absolutely, but that critical part. And then just really, you know, teaching a man to fish right it comes straight from the big, the good word and giving them the resources, these students today, kind of pointing them in the right direction. So, thank you, that's great. Can mastery learning be implemented across different grade levels and subject areas?

0:31:25 - Doctor Dwayne Wood

Absolutely. It's not content dependent, it's not subject dependent, it's based on the individual. So we're building to that. It's almost like going back to the one-room schoolhouse, right, you know, we got all the different grades in there, but everybody's progressing at different levels. You know, as we go through the process, that's what it is Again taking the time out of it, allowing for students to pace themselves. It's a completely flexible approach when you look at it.

Now, the only thing I would say here that you got to be careful of is, just like in language, right, I can have one statement and I can say it one way, and it means something completely different than if I say it another way. Same thing with any of these methodologies, approaches we talk about. It's how it's applied can matter on its impact. If it's not really like, if the teacher I find this all the time if the teacher is not really comfortable with the method, it's probably not best to use it, because it's not going to go off very well and it's asking to produce negative impacts instead of the positive impacts. This is where we have to do professional development. We have to make teachers, facilitators, instructors be comfortable with these methodologies, because these methodologies are going to produce the skills that we're looking for.

0:32:42 - Kimberly King

Right, right, wow. This is such great information and right now we just need to take a quick break. But more in just a moment. Don't go away. We will be right back. And now back to our interview with Dr. Dwayne Wood, and we're discussing mastery learning. It's so interesting, and so, Dr. Wood, is there any research or evidence to support the effectiveness of mastery learning?

0:33:07 - Doctor Dwayne Wood

So there are numerous studies out there across a bunch of different metrics that show that mastery of learning can have a bunch of positive effects.

You know, some of this is we talked about improved achievement, which is kind of what we're the main kind of thing we talk about here right, we're getting students to actually master a skill instead of getting, you know, moderately okay with it to pass an exam. They're actually mastering this skill before they move on, despite the time. But there's also this idea that this can help close some of these achievement gaps, right? So you know, we have students that go through our education system and they kind of get left behind a little bit, right? So when they do graduate or when they move on, they don't have the same skill set as someone else, right, that is, you know, may have a little more process as they went through that. So there's also some research out there that indicates that using this methodology improves retention of the material. And I like to equate this to because of the positive, more positive emotional state that this mastery of learning produces. Right, I'm trying to eliminate, I'm limiting the time aspect so I'm getting rid of some of that anxiety. I'm not using high stakes testing, I'm using more formative type testing, low stakes testing, right, you know. So I can figure out what students I'm providing supports right, as they move towards mastery. 

And I think that helps with the retention because we talked about. You know that anxiety and all those worry and stuff takes cognitive resources, which is limited. Right, we only got so much that we can work with and when we take that away, we take it away from other processing. So I think that's maybe an increased retention of knowledge there is. But I also think and there's some other research out there and more and more research is being done as this competency-based education, mastery for learning, is becoming more mainstream in higher education. There are a few universities that have full competency-based programs. There are even a couple universities that's all they do, right, because it's becoming such a popular method for instruction in this realm. So more and more research is being generated now because we have more things we can study, right, as we go through this process.

But there's so many variables there that I think this has an impact and some of them we've talked about, right Self-efficacy, self-confidence, self-esteem, learning just in the intrinsic value of learning our students coming away with like not being afraid of it anymore. Right, it's not a chore, it's something I'd like to do, you know, as we go through the process. So I think there are some things there again very intangible, very hard to measure outside of very qualitative type study. And you know we really need a longitudinal study. You know, if we try to take some really short snaps up some time, you know we might not be getting the full picture right as we go through. So you know, when we look at these, that's what I would look for is like a study that has a much study base and a longitudinal - over time.

Right, we can see. Especially, we talk about learning to learn. Right, are we giving our students the skills they need to succeed in the real world? Right, in this information world? Right, as we move forward, that's what I think is in there. But yeah, all kinds of research, is getting more and more every day. I could probably do a search right now and there's probably like 10 more on competency education in the last hour.

0:36:34 - Kimberly King

Wow, yeah, this is great. How can parents or guardians be involved in supporting mastery learning at home?

0:36:43 - Doctor Dwayne Wood

You know I've asked this question to some other folks when we talked about this and I get a bunch of different responses. It's the same, it's not any different, right? What does a parent need to do to help a student succeed? Well, they need to give them an environment that's OK for learning right and be encouraging right. Just providing that environment, no matter what methodology is being applied. And what's different about the mastery of learning is this might be a concern of a parent is maybe they're talking to other parents are like well, my child's not advancing as fast as XYZ, right? So-and-so students. That might be a concern there. But as long as this is explained up front, parents are involved in the process as a stakeholder as you go through the process of implementing this stuff. That's all going to work out and it's going to be, and I think parents will see that their child is much more excited about learning right Because you know they're getting the supports they need.

They're getting the time they need to actually understand it right and to use it. And again, I don't think it's too young to make real world application of this explicit. As an example, what if we taught fractions to a child that enjoyed baking? Oh great.

0:38:09 - Kimberly King

Make it a real experience.

0:38:11 - Doctor Dwayne Wood

Yes. So instead of them doing a fractions test of just the paper base, well, give them their measuring cups. Have them measure out one fourth plus one fourth, just to help. Again, real world application. That's going to mean more and it's going to increase retention and it's going to help achieve mastery. It's going to help the student understand your tailor in it, personalizing it to them, and they're-what they'd like? Yes, exactly.

0:38:45 - Kimberly King

Yeah, that's good, and I think again that hands on and when we can, all you know, work together, kind of get it our hands dirty or put it in the dough and measure it out, so that's great. Are there any misconceptions or myths surrounding mastery learning that you'd like to address?

0:39:01 - Doctor Dwayne Wood

There are a lot. The biggest one, the one I hear all the time, is that it slows everything down. We can't, we can't use mastery of learning within our 180 day school year and meet all the state standards. That's a myth. You can. It takes work. Now here's you know we could, we could talk about things outside of Instruction and teaching and learning to have an impact on that, and that's our administration, the norms, you know, that are in our culture of our school environment, that can get in a way of this as we, as we move through this, if we're going to use this process, this new methodology, because people aren't fully bought in or they don't completely understand and it kind of bogs it down, it's not aligned with the culture. You know, all those things can impact this effectiveness of Employing these, these, these types of methodologies. You know, but yeah, it's, it's a complete myth. The Another thing you can impact this is you know a lot of our teachers are not paid very well.

You know, in many, in many states we require our teachers to have a master's degree in Education or their career in their subject area, and then we pay them peanuts and then we ask them to do so much. Right, and this methodology requires more it does. It just requires more than is Seen to make it work from a team, not just individuals. If you have just one teacher in your district trying to do this, it's not gonna work. You might have some small successes, but it needs to be a full team effort because you need everybody to be involved, all your stakeholders and Sometimes the students are left out as a stakeholder. They need to be involved. Also, they need to understand what this methodology, how it works Right, what's the benefits for them? What's what do they need to be doing? Make them part of the process.

Right, if they're involved, I like to have students work with their own data. Hey, here's all your data from your last assignments. What do you think that means? Right, have them involved in their own data. It's just gonna help that again, learning to learn, right? Oh, you know I trying to sleep with the book under my pillow doesn't work. I just learned that now I can try a different methodology. Maybe I actually need to. Maybe do some flashcards or do some. You know that. So that's what I mean by learning to learn right. They learn how they best are able to Comprehend and apply what you're asking them to do, and they got to be part of the process. They can't be left in the dark and, again, I don't think there's any ages too young to not Tell them hey, this is why we're doing this, right especially the dollars, the dollars one.

0:41:58 - Kimberly King

Yeah, like a four-year-old. Why? Why right? That's my brother-in-law. I was gonna tell you this is a retired major in the Marine Corps, so you know, a similar military experience. But now he's in a third year of medical school and the learning he's 43 years old. I really have no idea how he's doing it. It's incredible to me. After everything, he served in tours and so. But he talks a lot about his professors and I so wish that you are connected with him, because he's trying to implement what he's learned from the military experience, or make it practical as well, and it's not going so well. Anyway, you would be a really good resource for him, so I may connect you later. Oh, can you share a success story or an example of mastery learning implementation in a classroom?

0:42:50 - Doctor Dwayne Wood

So and I'm gonna use this is a personal story I was, I was teaching a basic research course, so in this course, students have to Pick a topic and they have to take a position, do the research and write a paper right, and it's following basic academic Protocols. They got to have an annotated bibliography right, all these steps and processes to go from it, and the course was it was a 499 level, which we're almost at a master's level, right, and the student was only two years into their studies, and this was common in this, in this program, you know, and I found that struggled, struggle and it got so, so frustrated, many, many times. That and what tipped me off? Because they didn't come to me. What took me off is I would start looking at assignments when they were submitted on time and I and I could look at that compared to what the discussion was and like this is well below the student’s ability.

And that game was like you know, I need to reach out and see what's going on here, because they can do so much more and I, based upon the rubric, I'm stuck. I have to give the student the grade that's earned based upon the rubric. I can't, you know, go outside. So I contacted them and we had this talk about learning focus versus grade focused, and I allowed resubmissions After so the within two weeks, the students had made such a drastic difference Just because they needed the additional time. That was all, and the final. The final was one of the best ones I ever got For that Wow, what I mean by that? It was. It was not quite to length that was required by the requirement, but it displayed critical thinking better than all the other papers.

Yep and really that's what we're trying to achieve.

You know, really, if, if you get, if you just spit in facts at me, I can get that from a bunch of different sources. Tell me why, right. Why do you believe that? I used to tell you know, one of the things we do in the military and this may be applied to your when we do operational planning, we ask why five times Right, because that will get you to the level of thinking you need To pull off a complex military operation, right? It gets a little frustrating when you first go into it because you'll be like, well, no, this is why we're gonna do this. Well, why right? And it'll get down to some very basic assumptions that you didn't even know you made. Right. So that's what I mean. That's what I did with this. They were the student. Hey, let's ask why. And you know, for this purpose I only had to mask why three times. But you know it opened up. It was almost like you we say the light bulb goes off, right, the light bulb went off like, oh my goodness, I just have to write what I think and believe and then justify it. Yes, that's it. That's critical thinking, right? And Because the standard is almost well, this expert said it, so I'm just gonna regurgitate that, I'm gonna paraphrase it, put that on. That's my evidence. Well, what's your reasoning? How do you know that, that that statement is Correct or true? And this?

These are some of the things that I think are these intangible skills that, again, if we apply a mastery of learning and we apply the methodology correctly, we can help build these, school, these skills that we're looking for. And, again, they're hard to measure. You know, and, and it's not quick, it's not gonna happen, maybe in that single term, right, but it'll. It'll start to build on itself as they go through their academic career, they go through more academic Aspects or just life, right, you know, if I knew how to learn when I was younger, you know I don't know where I would be right, you know I. You know I had, I had.

I was working on an instructional design project and A subject matter expert wasn't assigned to me yet and I just put the course together, right. And when the subject matter expert was assigned to me, they looked at it like this is, this is really good, like you didn't really need me. I was like, because it's just knowledge-based, I have all the tools and I know how I learn, so I just learned it while I was building it. It's one of the best things about being a structural designer, by the way, because you get to get into so many different subjects. I used to work for A Defense Department of Defense nuclear weapons school. I know a lot about nuclear physics now right that I never knew before. And you know because, again, I get all these different opportunities. That's what one of the great things about being a structural designer, if you love to learn.

0:47:41 - Kimberly King

Right, right, lifelong learner, but look at what you're learning about, so that's. That's really amazing. How can teachers assess mastery effectively without relying solely on tests or exams? This is a two-part question. And then, what professional development opportunities are available for teachers interested in implementing mastery learning?

0:48:01 - Doctor Dwayne Wood

So I'll address the tests and exams. I'm not so again, and this is a, this is a personal philosophy and if and if I had to like Really talk about this master of learning, it's almost two-sided. It's one-sided and it's a methodology that's tested, improved and it has techniques and best practices that you can apply. But there's also the philosophy side of it, and if your philosophy is not aligned with that, that's where we can have conflict and where this, maybe this you'll have a hard time implementing this process. On the philosophy side, again, we have to focus on the student. That's what it is right, completely student focused. Well, if you think about traditional exams, right, a lot of them are Multiple choice questions, right, I? I believe I could pass almost any multiple choice question without knowing any content, because there's it's, there's a you know methodology to it, right, as you go through. But so they don't to me. That doesn't really assess learning either, right, and it doesn't give you an idea, truly, where a student is.

Now, I don't want to say not to use them, I just don't use them solely. I wouldn't use them as a sole measure of you know where a student's at. They are very good for, like, just triggering Recall right, if you need recall within a process, but I don't like to assign any point values, right, it's just a recall practice. Right, to help student recall some information as they go through that. So when we talk about how do we know this is working, it's the application, and this really comes down to the teacher instructor being observing right student behavior, because a lot of this is, yes, they're going to be able to complete a skill, but measure that skill in its real-world application versus a written piece of paper, right? I like to think of this, as you know, as an example. You know, I this was a long time ago, but when I was a teenager and I wanted to get my hunting license so I could go hunt deer, all they had you do was go take a written exam. Did that really prepare me to be safe in the woods as a 16 year old kid? No, but think about driving.

Right yeah, in driving you take a written exam, then you get in the car with somebody, right, and then you're. So that's what I like to think about when you're thinking about your assessment or this method that you're going to do that to measure if the students got it or not. How are you measuring it and is it truly authentic? Try to make them as authentic as you can, and sometimes that might be that you're watching the student do something and you have an observation protocol versus the student filling out something, and I get this from my military background because that's exactly how we do it right. You're taught how to perform a certain task and then guess what? Perform that task, and here I'm going to watch you do it right.

0:51:07 - Kimberly King

And then we slowly, slowly improve difficulty.

0:51:10 - Doctor Dwayne Wood

So instead of conducting that skill during the day, now you're going to do it at night. I just improve the difficulty right and I can still observe. And that's what I mean about trying when we talk about this master of learning, those little things you can do to help a student, challenge the student but also scaffold it so that they're within their ability to be successful and get to that mastery of that skill. Oh, the second question, professional development. There are places. Oh, I'm sorry go ahead.

0:51:43 - Kimberly King

No, that's what I was just going to ask you, is the next question about professional development.

0:51:47 - Doctor Dwayne Wood

There are all kinds of organizations out there that offer all kinds of training on different aspects of what we've talked about today and master of learning, competency-based education, right, all these aspects. There are a couple of great LinkedIn learnings and if you're a National University, you get that for free. You know, I would take advantage of those. I mean you can actually connect with individuals, right, to and join organizations that provide this type of aspects. Then I would also say it's self-development. Start going out there and looking for things.

I kind of get laughed at sometimes when I say you know, I'm in the library every day. I'm finding what new research is out there. I'm reading it, I'm evaluating it, I'm seeing it. I'm seeing it. You know, maybe my thought process is out of date, right, you know? So that's what I mean. That's to me, that's the most powerful. I could give you a whole list of links and stuff to go to go to, but really, you know learning to learn, right, this is what we're talking about. You know, the lifelong learner skill set. Apply those, use those. That's really what's going to make you become more of an expert in this area. Use those tools I like to use. I like to try to stump the AI tool, right? I'll ask the AI tool a question and then I'll see if I can find the research that backs it up.

Right, or did I just prove it wrong, you know? Or did I uncover a bias, right, you know? So that's, you know little games like that, right? That's how I learned. That's just my process. I would ask you to discover your own process and apply it. You know, I do a. My professional development each week is I take a mix of keywords, educational keywords, I throw them in the library and I do a search and I find four articles. And that's what I do for my professional development for a week. That's just my process, and I would ask you to develop again. Develop your own process, you know, but you can't stop. If you stop, you're going to be outdated within a year, I guarantee that's the way things are moving so quickly.

0:54:01 - Kimberly King

That's inspiring, and so thank you, because it does push us to continue to learn, and we have to do that to ourselves. How can policymakers and educational leaders support the widespread adoption of mastery learning?

0:54:17 - Doctor Dwayne Wood

You know, we kind of talked about, right, some things that were outside of the instruction and teaching in the classroom that have an impact. You know metrics, right, leadership support, those are. These are the things where leadership can definitely be a role and they can also be part of the solution, right, because they're seeing the bigger picture, right, they're seeing outside of the classroom and seeing in the much larger picture. They also understand the resources that are available. And you know, a saying we used to always say is a vision without resources is just the hallucination, right? So we have to operate within the resources and the administrations can be that way. If I'm a K through 12 teacher and I want to do that, I'm going to go to my principal like, look, this is what I need from you If I'm going to make this work. And here's what's going to, there's the positive effects it's going to have, you know, and that that leader's got to support, otherwise it's probably not going to work. Again, we talked about, it's got to be a team effort and it's all those levels of leadership and administration and management that got to be aligned and they got to. They got to see that vision, right, everybody's got to see that same picture and understand what that picture is. To get there, I mean, I've been in lots of organizations and you can ask anybody, hey, what's the vision of this organization? I bet you nobody knows it. You know well it's like well, how do you make decisions then, in the absence of authority, if you don't understand the intent, if you don't understand what we're trying to get to, how do you make a decision in the present? And that's what the administration's job here is right is to. Here's the vision, this is how we're going to get to it, here's the resources we have available. And here you go. And I'm going to support you Because, again, we talked about metrics and that's kind of the biggest risk, I think.

And how does a principal report to their superintendent that they didn't meet certain quarterly metrics? You know, because they're using a different methodology, you know, will that superintendent say you need to go back, go back to additional methods, right? Or are they going to have the patience, the trust to allow that process to play out? And here's another militarism. We call it mission command, and what that is the ground force commander has the most information to make the best decisions. So let them so you know, in a school environment, a K through 12 environment, that's the principal allowing the classroom teacher to make those decisions and to support them, and that's what we need to make any methodology, even you know. More importantly to this, mastery of learning, because it's a little bit outside of what everybody else is doing.

0:56:56 - Kimberly King

I love that. When are you going to run for office? Because you have vision and everything you talked about your mastery. This is great. Thank you very much for your time and if you want more information, you can visit National University's website. It's I'm going to look forward to your next visit. Thank you so much, Dr. Wood.

0:57:18 - Doctor Dwayne Wood

Thank you.

0:57:22 - Kimberly King

You've been listening to the National University podcast. For updates on future or past guests, visit us at You can also follow us on social media. Thanks for listening.

Show Quotables

"So we can we take that anxiety away, and I think that's really important because the anxiety works against and has a negative impact against student self-efficacy and confidence in their self-esteem. - Dwayne Wood" Click to Tweet
"Formative assessments are really powerful and they don't have to be like a traditional exam. If we write discussion questions correctly, a discussion question can be a formative assessment. - Dwayne Wood" Click to Tweet